El Salvador battles corruption among its highest ranks

El Salvador is determined to stop corruption. Earlier this year, El Faro released a report stating that the Supreme Court of Justice has more than 30 open investigations including three former presidents and a number of politicians and civil servants. The action taken by the Court gives hope that El Salvador’s judicial entity has the means and strength to combat corruption.

Among the former presidents are Mauricio Funes (2009-2014) and Elias Antonio Saca (2004-2009). Mauricio Funes will go on trial for illicit enrichment and is facing investigations over undeclared assets and a money laundering case. In the case of Antonio Saca, a trial has not been called but he was asked to justify more than $6 million USD in personal income, according to Diario Latino.

Grupo Gestor presents a lawsuit challenging the new probity law. Credit: El Diario de Hoy

Grupo Gestor presents a lawsuit challenging the new probity law. Credit: El Diario de Hoy

The third former president who was being investigated by the Supreme Court of Justice is the recently deceased Francisco Flores. Former President Flores was accused of embezzling donations from the government of Taiwan that were intended to support victims and fix damages after a massive earthquake in 2001. Investigations have shown that the money was used to finance Elias Antonio Saca’s presidential campaign.

Other cases calling for special attention are the ones of Francisco Merino, former president of the Court of Audit, whose personal income increased by $2.4 million USD; Carlos Reyes, former deputy, whose liquid assets went from $852,000 USD to $1.7 million USD, and Sigfrido Reyes, former president of the Legislative Assembly, whose liquid assets have increased by 477 percent through his career.

What triggered these investigations? There are two possible events that initiated these investigations, which are uncommon in El Salvador. Civilian organizations in El Salvador were demanding the implementation of the Probity Law, which safeguards that civil servants use their influence and allocated resources for the benefit of the people and the fulfillment of the mission involved in office without seeking special benefits or privileges outside the law.

However, it’s also possible that El Salvador was following Guatemala’s lead; Guatemala’s corruption scandals led to the resignation and later imprisonment of former president Otto Perez Molina and for Vice President Roxana Baldetti at the end of 2015.

On April 16, 2015, the United Nations-backed anti-impunity body call CICIG found that Molina and Baldetti were a part of a customs-fraud operation known as La Linea. This led to Baldetti’s resignation on May 8 of the same year. On Sep. 1, Guatemala’s Congress unanimously voted to strip the President from his immunity and the next day Perez Molina presented his resignation. After these victories against corruption, other Central American countries demanded the implementation of CICIG’s anti-corruption mechanisms. Salvadorean authorities handled matters without outside interference - implementing the Probity Law, which had been inactive for 56 years.

Although action is being taken to fight impunity and corruption, the Probity Law still needs improvement. At the end of 2013, Grupo Gestor, a group of civilian organizations along with the Probity Entity of the Supreme Court of Justice, started working on a draft bill that would enhance the probity law.

However, President Sánchez Cerén enacted a new Probity law on Dec. 23, 2015, without proper notice. A working group of civilian associations and a section of the Supreme Court of Justice reacted by posing a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the new law. While there have been substantial efforts to implement effective normative mechanisms, the future of this law is yet to be seen.

In the meantime, Salvadoreans are hoping that justice is made in all cases of corruption, even if it is under the current law.

Cover credit: Politicalcartoons.com